Sunday, February 22, 2009

Of Collective Transference and the Social Unsconscious

Obama:  Not Just "Cult of Personality", but an Evoker of Collective,  Unconscious Transference

 So much has been made of Barack Obama's "Cult of Personality",  but there is much that remains to be explored in terms of why it is that he has tapped into the collective unconscious,  and caused deeply buried longings to catch fire there,  transferring all hopes onto him.  He is an icon for the post-Boomer Generations:  X, Jones, and Millennials.  He is young,  handsome,  charismatic;  inspirational;  speaking less as a politician and more as an orator,  poetic;  sexy,  edgy,  global, biracial.  He is a "nomad",  growing up without a father,  unsure of where he fit in geographically and racially.  He dabbled in drugs and rebellion.  He is philosophical:  Steeped in the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr.  He is quasi-socialist;  he has the messianic aspiration  to change and new direction.  He is pragmatic:  "Just Do It",  see if it works,  figure it out as you go.  He has an optimistic progressivism. 

He has charisma:  Eyes that can sparkle,  brood,  dream,  flash with anger.  There is a swagger to his gait,  and yet an understated modesty in his mannerisms.  His voice is deep and commanding,  but can be soft and drawling.  When Henrietta Hughs spoke to the President at the economic town hall meeting in Florida,  telling him of her plight of homelessness,  he asked,  "What's your name,  sweetheart?",  and when she told him,  he approached her,  cooing,  "Come here,  darlin'", and kissed her on the cheek. 

He is the father archetype of generations who were fatherless:  symbolically,  or literally.  He looks like what all men would look like, had they been good and deep and solid,  as he is.  At he Inaugural Ball,  the song played,  At last,  my love has come along:  It seemed to speak for all who felt they had found a "Daddy"  in Barack:  a hero and someone to emulate and strive to be like.     He is a compass for the lost,  a direction for the directionless.  Moreover,  when people project onto him,  he receives those projections,  easily and happily.  He is willing to bear the good and ill effects of his own power.  

There are always dangers to tranference,  especially collective projection:  disillusionment,  disenchantement, when the object fails to make actual the longing which he evoked.  Placing hope in an icon can be an excuse for forgoing individual responsibilty and action.  Thronging millions in awe of a leader may be the clarion call to state control on some level.  Although,  we have had so much of that in a subtle,  crafty, and underhanded manner,  I hardly think the type that Obama could enact would be anything but a vast improvement.   A transference reaction produces a dialectic:  Like a long-dormant tendency which is a powder keg waiting for a lit match,  wild and whirling yearnings are ignited.  The object must then address those yearnings,  and watch for the response.  His response itself will guide and direct the counter-response.  Only a very strong man can take the helm of such a back and forth.  Obama did remarkably well throughout the primary and general election season.  His skill and craft won him  the 44th U.S, presidency.  So many had called him "a flash in the pan";  a comet who would light up the sky,  only to sputter out;  a trend of the moment,  to titillate and  be discarded.  If one were watching him closely,  listening to his rally speeches,  you knew it would not be so.   There was an urgency,  a seriousness of tone,  combined with a  rythm and cadence which did not have the mark of a trivial,  passing phase or fashion.  

Throughout the '80s and '90s,  that splintered time of the interest group,  the walled off enclaves of individuality and unaccountability and new age quasi and pseudo spirituality;  of riches and preferences and trends and demands;   of vulgar sex and fitness crazes,  of  wealth worship,  taken together with  the fragmentation of gender and identity:  All had become  a cauldron of seething forces which boiled and boiled to no avail.  A  period which Howe and Strauss astutely call "the Unravelling" ,  it produced  undercurrents of a longing for community and consensus which were stirring:  muted but persistent,    repressed but the rumblings would only grow stronger for the delay.  What was needed was the fatherly touch:  The voice speaking in a tone more serious,  more sober,  no longer addressing the glitz and greed  of a fragmented people,  but the earnest group concerns  in a time of crisis which demands unity:  Obama was this voice,  and when he spoke,  inner longings which had been repressed for decades suddenly found expression.  

A fatherless generation will seek a father:  "I love you!"  a young male voice once cried out to Obama from the crowd,    as he strode to the podium.  "I love you,  too."  was the unhesitating response from Obama.  Stated simply,  as a father would do.  In a split second,  there was a return to a consensus which had been submerged in the swamp waters of the '90s:  Fathers are needed.  Feminism had been wrong,  had been divisive,  had robbed us.  "He is not a robber;  he will woo at the right time":  these words of Wang Bi came to life in Obama,  and the transcendentally ideal,  in a flash,  became the emprirically real. 

The human psyche has inherited its binary aspect from biology and evolution.  There is always a waiting period,  a time of dormancy.  Ideas and longings  are not produced piece-meal and do not arise spontaneously.  Rather,  there is a process of symbiosis,  where urgent responds silently within the dark recesses of the substratum to the call of he who is urging.  This back and forth is silent and unseen for a long,  pregnant period.  The surface expression is revealed as the consequence of a long process,  and is secondary.  

I am in agreement with Jung,  that dangers are always present,  when the constellation of social and cultural forces activate the collective unconsious.  But there is an even greater danger when this does not occur:  The natural process is short-circuited,  and then you have the sort of anarchy that we had in the '90s,  which led to the howling discord of the culture and gender wars.  Obama in this sense was sorely needed:  Like a sun which the planets can revolve around,  and which anchors their movements.  

There is a slow-building effect of this collective and subterreanean process,  similar to the gathering force of a weather phenomenum,  a storm from the skies.  Street artist Shepard Fairey beigns to paint Obama's face,  or graphically render it sublime:  This begins to roll across the states of our nation,  and produces a sort of moral suasion,    similar in kind and degree to the john brown's body is a 'lyin' in the grave  song of the pre-Civil War area,  which took such deep root within the collective American conscious that it produced the Harper's Ferry Rebellion and the War of the States.    In another essay on this site,  I had compared Obama to the Rush song,  Today's Tom Sawyer:  ". . . though his mind is nor for rent,  to any god or government,  his reserve a quiet defense,  riding out the day's events. . . the world is the world is love and life,  are deep,  (maybe as his skies are wide?). . . The words are apt,  and honor the phenomena. 

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